Austerity is fuelling a ‘national scandal’ of rising inequality between rich and poor areas

Child with head in hands. Glasses of wine hungry children and luxury travel
Ed Sykes

A health inequality expert has put together a damning report showing how Tory-led austerity has fuelled a ‘national scandal’ in England.

According to professor Sir Michael Marmot, the rise in life expectancy has “slowed dramatically” since 2010. Health inequalities between the most and least deprived parts of the country, meanwhile, have been widening.

“England has lost a decade”

The new report, Health Equity In England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On, showed that the difference in life expectancy at birth between the least and most deprived communities was 9.5 years for men and 7.7 years for women in 2016-18, rising from 9.1 and 6.8 respectively in 2010-12.

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Marmot stressed that “England has lost a decade”, saying:

From the beginning of the 20th century, England experienced continuous improvements in life expectancy but from 2011 these improvements slowed dramatically, almost grinding to a halt.

He added:

If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving and if health inequalities continue and in fact increase, that means inequalities in society have been increasing.

The report estimated the cost of failing to tackle these issues at about £82bn a year in lost taxes, higher welfare payments, and increased NHS and social care costs. And it urged the government to reduce “poor quality, low-paid and insecure” work, make sure the national living wage and benefits give people the minimum needed for good health, and invest more in the most deprived areas.

Deprived communities, and particularly women and children, hit the hardest

The largest decreases in life expectancy came in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in the North East. The largest increases, meanwhile, came in the least deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in London.

Change in life expectancy by region (in years)

As the BBC pointed out, the report also showed that “people in poorer areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas”.

Faculty of Public Health president Prof Maggie Rae, meanwhile, called the situation “a national scandal”. And she stressed that:

most of the people in these deprived communities are working, many of them in our much-needed public sector, including caring, policing and nursing.

The Guardian, meanwhile, said numerous experts have pointed out the irony that:

voters who brought [Boris] Johnson to power live in worse health and will die sooner than his traditional supporters.

And it seems women and children are feeling the biggest impact. Because women’s life expectancy in the most deprived areas fell by 0.3 years between 2010-12 to 2016-18. And child poverty after housing costs rose from 27% in 2010-11 to 30% in 2017-18. Among single parents not in work, 70% of children were in poverty.

The key role of austerity

The BBC stressed that “the slow-down in life expectancy is more obvious than in most European and other high-income countries”. And one key difference between England and other high-income countries in recent years is the extent of austerity which Tory-led governments have imposed. As Marmot said:

Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health and it is likely to continue to do so … if you ask me if that is the reason for the worsening health picture, I’d say it is highly likely that is responsible for the life expectancy flatlining, people’s health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation executive director Claire Ainsley broke the situation down, saying “people in the worst-off places are dying younger now than they were a decade ago”. And she added: “this is not normal”.

The last decade of Tory rule has starved the NHS while severely cutting public funding for educationsocial welfare, the justice systemcouncils and housing. According to the BBC, meanwhile, Marmot’s report highlighted that “cuts in funding in deprived areas and areas outside London were larger and affected those areas more”. Other studies in recent years have also shown that deprived northern areas have suffered the most from austerity.

As an MP, Boris Johnson backed his party’s failed ideological austerity, which has sparked a rise in poverty, foodbank usage, and widespread suffering. At least 130,000 people have died as a result of just one Tory policy. As prime minister, meanwhile, Johnson has formed a hard-right team which admires Margaret Thatcher and public-sector cuts.

In short, Marmot’s report highlights one national scandal that we can lay firmly at the door of austerity-loving Conservatives.

Featured image via pixabay/pixabay, with additional content via Press Association

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